Carmen and Wayne Colson live a quiet, suburban life. Carmen (Diane Lane) is a realtor while Wayne (Thomas Jane) is an ironworker. Suddenly everything is violently changed when they stumble upon an extortion plot hatched by two crooks, Armand "Blackbird" (Mickey Rourke) Degas and his partner Richie Nix (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). While Richie is unstable and impatient, the Blackbird is calm and collected. After Wayne forces the two away with a Sleever Bar, the criminals decide to exact vengeance on the Colsons…Based on a 1989 book by Elmore Leonard.
This film provides examples of:
- Affably Evil: Blackbird is a Professional Killer, but when he's not on duty he's a somewhat easy fellow to get along with. Even when he has a reason to kill he's fairly conservative and is typically courteous to his victims.
- All Men Are Perverts: Subverted. The mafia girl at the beginning thinks the Professional Killer Blackbird, after finishing his job killing someone else that she was aware of, disturbs her while she's showering because he very blatantly wants to sneak a peek. Instead he shoots her in the head for having seen his face.
- Animal Motifs: Blackbird, made obvious enough by his alias, but in the novel he also mentions that his Ojibwe grandmother kept saying she would turn him into an owl but the one time they actually tried she said he hadn't done the ritual right and it didn't work.
- Badass Boast: Done by Blackbird to Richie. Doesn't come off nearly as intimidating here as in the film.Blackbird: I shoot people. Sometimes for money, sometimes for nothing.
- Book Ends: The opening and closing lines are both Blackbird reciting/narrating the set of rules that he lives by as a contract killer, albeit in truncated form the second time around.Blackbird: You gotta know what you're doing when you go in. You gotta have it figured out. Those are the rules. How you get in, how you get out. How many shots you're gonna need. Make sure you know where everybody is. Make sure nobody sees you. Don't hang around. Don't get interested. And you don't make mistakes.
- Dressing to Die: The old man whom mafia hitman Blackbird kills in the opening decides that he'd rather die with some decent clothes when Blackbird catches him walking out of the shower.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Richie kills Donna in a fit of jealous rage, which Blackbird later kills him for in turn. Discussed:Blackbird: I'm not like Richie. I'm not the same as him.
- Face Death with Dignity: The old man Blackbird kills at the beginning calmly accepts his murder, but requests he be allowed to put some clothes on first. Blackbird obliges. This scene is repeated nearly word for word at the end of the book when Blackbird is about to shoot Carmen and he lets her get dressed, but this time she takes the opportunity to grab a gun and turn the tables on him.
- Faux Affably Evil: Richie. Unlike the more calm and reserved Blackbird, Richie is playful and generally puts on a humorously cheerful front. This is all because he's utterly a perverted sadist and has no sense of nobility using killing as fun and game.
- Leave No Witnesses: Blackbird has a policy of killing anyone who sees his face during his kills. This comes back to bite him when he is hired by the mafia to kill an old criminal but goes off-plan by also killing the girl who let him in and could identify him. The pissed off mob boss puts a prize on Blackbird's head because the girl was his mistress.
- Mixed Ancestry: Blackbird is half-Ojibwe, and while it's not explicitly touched on (it's Elmore Leonard after all) it's heavily implied that this has made him feel like an outsider his whole life.
- Mugging the Monster: Richie, a fancy-talking hoodlum and wannabe Badass decides to steal the cadillac of a middle-aged man (Blackbird) who looks dressed like a modern-day cowboy after the man grabbed a bite at a cheap diner. After driving around for a while at gunpoint they park the car somewhere, and Richie peruses through Blackbird's wallet. Then Blackbird shoves a gun in Richie's face and reveals that he's a contract killer. Interestingly he doesn't kill Richie, but hangs around with him for the remainder of the film.
- Noble Demon: Blackbird is a ruthless killer but he does have limits, and is generally polite and makes it clear to his victims that it's Nothing Personal Richie excepted.
- Professional Killer: Blackbird is a Mafia hitman who becomes disgraced after pissing off the boss. He partners up with a violent wannabe gangster to extort some people, then spends the rest of the movie trying to track them down to tie up a loose end.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Part of what makes Blackbird turn on Richie since the latter makes it clear he intends to assault Carmen and makes her strip down. After shooting Richie Blackbird agrees to let her put on some clothes.